Distracted by Duty

By Marcelo A. Tolopilo

 Truly, the very purpose for which man was created was to know (John 17:3), enjoy, and glorify God. For the Christian this purpose is realized in and through the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

To love the Son of God and to fellowship with Him is the believer’s greatest need and privilege; therefore, the most important and delightful aim we can aspire to is intimacy with our Lord Jesus. Any right-minded Christian would gladly affirm this holy principle; however, the knowledge of it does not guarantee the pursuit of the glorious goal. If it were automatic, no exhortation would be needed, but since we stumble over sin on life’s path, and often get distracted and diverted from the joyous journey, God’s Spirit – through scripture – enjoins us to return to the fellowship of the King.

Truly, scripture was written for our instruction (Romans15:4, 1 Corinthians 10:11, 2 Timothy 3:16, 17) and tucked away in the middle of the gospel of Luke we have a brief narrative that offers a bounty of teaching to the path of joy in Jesus. It is to this account that we will dedicate the next few articles. Let’s look at the text together and then unpack our portionfor this edition of The Lighthouse.

Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came upto Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke10:38-42)

A brief introduction to a short narrative ~ Doctor Luke unfolds this story with a spartan economy of words ~ no doubt because of the many allusions to these characters in the Gospels and their subsequent familiarity. Judging from the name references, we can easily identify the major players in the story and from there triangulate where this event took place. We know the scene unfolds in the home of a woman named “Martha” (v38), who had a sibling “Mary.” These two women were, of course, sisters to Lazarus(John 11:1) whom the Lord loved (11:3), and whom He would raise from the dead (11:44). Although the location is never mentioned in the text, we know this family lived in the town of Bethany just two miles southeast of Jerusalem (11:1,18). This was almost certainly a favorite oasis for the Lord when He traveled south to Jerusalem from His base in Galilee.

The actual event very likely took place in a room full of people, even though only three are mentioned by name. There may have been between fifteen to two dozen people destined to arrive at Martha’s home that day,yet the focus of the text narrows on three key players: the Lord Jesus, Martha, and her sister Mary.  Everyone else literally fades from the scene. The lessons the Lord would have us learn revolve around these three specific individuals. Of particular interest to us in this article is Martha who was evidently the older sister and quite possibly the matriarch of the family.

Prone to wander from priority #1 ~ We will zero in on Mary’s marvelous example of fellowship with Christ in the next couple of Lighthouse articles (10:39), but what makes her simple choice so laudable, and indeed stand out, is the contrast of her well-meaning sister, Martha. Into the almost serene setting suggested by verse 39 crashes Martha with the disruptive diversion recorded in verse 40, But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” The term “distracted” in the text means to “draw away”and I like what G. Campbell Morgan suggests here.

He believes, and I concur, that it was love on Martha’s part (for Christ) that suggested a couple more details to make Jesus feel extra welcome. Then it was love that suggested two more special twists to please the Lord on His visit, and on the way to do the four, these turned into eight and the eight into 16, and through her service she grew distracted.In other words, her deeds of love for Christ eventually became a growing list of things to do, and the list of things (not the Lord) became the focal point of her attention. Ironically, her ministry of service for the Master distracted her, pulled her away from Jesus Christ Himself!

Predictably, because her focus was off the Lord Jesus, Martha’s perspective on matters became completely distorted and her appraisal of the situation totally muddled. She was pulled away from fellowship with Jesus; consequently, her eyes were no longer seeing circumstances through His. Her spiritual clarity ~ her ability to rightly discern and see the things of true spiritual value ~ became blurry to say the least.

Her assessment of the situation is actually quite startling. First, she alleged her sister was lazy, or held misplaced priorities, “my sister has left me to do all the serving alone” an allegation Jesus did not share. Even more troubling, Martha actually insinuated the Lord did not care, “Lord,do You not care?” That is simply an astonishing statement! Martha accused God of lacking compassion ~ among other things, e.g., not understanding matters accurately, failing to appreciate Martha’s effort, etc. Furthermore, she delivered her indictments in a rhetorical question. She wasn’t interested in a discussion; she was simply venting a pronouncement!

Permit me to turn the tables on our dear sister Martha and ask you the obvious question that begs asking. Do you think Jesus cared about Martha, about what she was feeling? The manifest answer is “Of course He did!” So why didn’t the Lord rebuke Mary and brush her away to help Martha the moment she sat down at His feet? Why didn’t the Lord side with Martha and her complaint?

The answer can be found in the primary purpose Jesus Christ had for Mary and Martha, for all those nervously watching this tense scene unfold, and ultimately by extension, for you and me, i.e., for all His people. Christ’s chief desire for all of us is simply this, that we may grow in our knowledge and love for Him. That is His one, great purpose for our lives. It is the primary means through which we glorify God, and in the account of Luke 10:38-42, this eternal goal was being accomplished best by Mary who was sitting at Jesus feet, absorbed in His sweet fellowship. The Lord wasn’t about to sacrifice His great objective at the altar of Martha’s inverted priorities.

To grow in our knowledge and love for God and His Son is the reason for which we were saved, and it is the essence of the eternal life we have been given. Jesus Himself defined eternal life this way, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John17:3). The sum and substance of salvation, both now and for eternity, is our relationship and communion with God and His Son.

Our great and glorious goal ~ Very little of my life has turned out to be the way I envisioned it when I was younger. There have been many detours, frequent heartaches, and some deep disappointments along the way, but the longer I live, the more I realize God is orchestrating all of my life toward one great and glorious goal: that I may know Him and His beloved Son.

Often, like Martha, we become distracted, and get pulled away from fellowship with Jesus – whether it is by sin, worldly priorities, or even the noblest of tasks. When we find ourselves detached and distanced from our Master, there is only one remedy for our languid, listless spirit, and it is to return to Jesus feet and humbly fellowship with our Savior. At His feet we rediscover the joyful purpose for which our Master saved us.

Westminster Shorter Catechism,question #1, answer #1

 The only other “Lazarus” in theBible is found in Luke 16:19-31. This is the only one of the Lord’s parables inwhich a character is given a name.

 Verse 38 reveals that Jesus wastraveling in a group, “Now as they were traveling along,” This is likely a referenceto the twelve, plus the Lord. It is certainly plausible that Lazarus was therewith his sisters ~ quite possibly other family members if there were any ~ and perhaps others. Jesus no doubt had many friends in this village strategically located near Jerusalem (e.g., Simon the Leper, Matthew 26:6)

 NASB Exhaustive Concordance

 G. Campbell Morgan was one of thegreatest preachers of his day (1863-1945). Although he had no formaltheological training he was deeply devoted to the study of scripture andexpositional preaching. Born in England he ministered extensively both in Great Britain and the U.S., and served as pastor of the famed Westminster Chapel in London where he was succeeded by the great Martin Lloyd-Jones.

 The Gospel According to Luke, p.140, G. Campbell Morgan, Oliphants Ltd, London ~ Edinburgh, reprinted 1954.

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